Dec 22, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan (2) passes during the fourth quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field. Falcons won 31-18. Mandatory Credit: Tim Fuller-USA TODAY Sports

Falcons defeat Lions, clinch home-field advantage through playoffs

The most important factor of the Atlanta Falcons victory over the Detroit Lions is that they are now 13-2, and have clinched home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Falcons will not have to play an outdoor game the rest of the season, and the NFC Playoffs must run through the Georgia Dome.

That’s a big deal. The Falcons have a tremendously loud crowd in the Dome, but it isn’t the hostile playoff environment that, say, Green Bay is, or Chicago is. However, there’s no doubt playing at home favors the home team. These Falcons will be able to stay in their own beds, get home cooking, and be in a familiar place while preparing for playoff matchups.

But enough about clinching home-field. Could the Atlanta Falcons have started any faster up in Detroit? I think the answer is a resounding no. Atlanta lost the coin-toss and had to kick the opening possession of the game, something that has been extremely rare for them in 2012. But the defense answered immediately with a 3-and-out. The Falcons got the ball right back. The offense didn’t operate fantastically on the first possession, but after the defense caused Mikel Leshoure to fumble, Matt Ryan & Co. answered. 4 plays and 69-yards later, Roddy White is waltzing into the end-zone on the strength of a 44-yard touchdown catch. Great play by a great playmaker, and another showing of a very prolific passing combination.

That wouldn’t be the end. The defense was in bend-but-don’t-break mode as they surrendered a 49-yard catch to Calvin Johnson, but that Detroit possession ended in a field goal. The Falcons got the ball, and on the 9th play of the 80-yard drive, Ryan completed a receiver screen to (guess who?) Roddy White. White, with great blocking by his fellow receivers and left tackle Sam Baker, did the rest and rumbled 39-yards into the end-zone. Outstanding play by White, and good play recognition by Ryan to make that play happen.

Still, the Falcons weren’t done in the first half. After exchanging punts, the Falcons once again forced a turnover, this time John Abraham stripping the ball from Calvin Johnson. In short order, Ryan led the Falcons down a short field, and connected with Julio Jones in the back right corner of the endzone for a touchdown. It was a fantastic throw, a fantastic catch, and a showing of a prolific passing combination that Falcons fans can look forward to for years to come.

There’s only one problem with the Falcons performance against Detroit, and it’s something that they’ve had a problem with in most games this season. Once the Falcons had a 21-6 halftime lead, they let Detroit back into the ball game. Now Detroit never got closer than 5 points from the Falcons, but considering Atlanta was leading by 15 points, that’s entirely too close. To begin the second half, the Falcons had two 3-and-out punts, and the only thing inbetween those two series was a Lions touchdown. I understand that the Falcons didn’t want to do anything crazy and start throwing interceptions or something of that nature, but the Falcons have to bear down, continue to be aggressive, and bury opponents, especially when you get the ball to start the 2nd half. It’s just something that has to happen, and I think the Falcons will re-evaluate what they were doing in those situations.

What more needs to be said about this team? They’re resilient. They never quit. This wasn’t a game where things were particularly dire, and it wasn’t a must-win game for the Falcons, but nevertheless they took care of business and didn’t put off to next week things they could do right now. They went on the road, started fast, didn’t play down to competition, and came away with a victory that was much more than a single solitary win. And that, folks, is a beautiful thing.

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